Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Of Bottlenecks and Rock Stars...

Larry Young, chief of AiT/PlanetLAR and I go back a ways, I first met him at an industry gathering as he was getting ready to release his infamous Astronauts in Trouble. While we don't always agree on things, he always makes me think about why I believe the way I do about the comic industry.

Recently he posted links to some blogtalk on Newsarama that I found interesting, if not a little disappointing because again, folks would rather shout down those that disagree with them rather than consider the information and learn from folks who have been where they would like to go.

If you'd like to see the context for my rant below, the links above will fill in the backstory. In any event, none of this should suprise any of you that have read prior posts here but maybe it will register better this time. I'm constantly suprised when people I've worked with for years, finally see the light re: my quixotic quest to get publishers and creators to be more responsible in the marketing of their work, as if it's the first time I've ever mentioned it.

So here's my latest answer to why small press is so often small press (for those that haven't looked at the links, this is a 3rd party response to comments by Larry) ...
“…yet another indication of the way that the current direct market retailer order system acts as a bottleneck for sales of indy comics. It means there’s a lid on sales that can only be lifted by getting retailers to understand that indy comics can bring in a new audience that isn’t being served as well by the bookstores as manga fans are.”

That is a very bizarre assesment of the DM marketplace. Not all your fault though, stuff gets repeated so often as fact, that sometimes I almost start believing it myself, almost.
There is no “bottleneck” for indy comics, well not because of the “current direct market retailer order system” anyway.

I think Larry almost touched on the the problem when he suggested that the creator consider avoiding the crowded spandex market in favor of a more wide open genre. I say he almost touched on it because he sorta missed addressing (IMNSHO) the major reason why that was such great counsel.

The bottleneck, if it does exists, exists because most creators (regardless of genre) create and run. They have aabsolutley no idea what it takes to create a viable commercial product and merely ape what they see others doing, or what they think they see others doing. Forget the fact that none of the folks they are aping are succeeding either, they continue lemming like, to create product that has very limited (if any) demand and throw it in a catalog that has limited distribution to a limited consumer base (and have the balls to blame the marketplace for not supporting them!)

I call it the “Print it and they will come” mentality. And where Larry missed the opportunity to make a fantastic point was, it don’t matter if that creator wants to do super-hero, romance, sci-fi, slice-of-life… if he is not going to create an awareness, a need, a demand for his work, he will see the same thing almost every other indy creator sees. DM orders for 0-1,000 copies.

Why, because the DM consumer base isn’t finite but DM retail space pretty much is. Even if DM retailers could afford to and wanted to order every indy title available, they don’t have the shelf space to display them. And if a publisher/creator isn’t bringing (at least some of) new faces through the DM doors on their own, then they are not going to earn that valuable shelf space over other titles that are delivering customers.

Many indy creators are doing their work on the side, this isn’t how they make a living. Not so for most DM retailers. There is no reason anyone should expect retailers to subsidize any title, no matter how much the retailer may like the book. It’s a business and retailers need their vendors to remember that and act accordingly.

If publishers/creators spent more time studying other entertainment industries instead of inbreeding and creating more retarded efforts by repeating the last 20 years of mistakes, they might see that bottleneck free up.

I’ll leave you with a couple points to ponder.
1) I have many friends in the local music scene. The ones who are constantly booked and actively sought out are the ones that have an active machine that packs their venues full of folks forking over cover charges and buying drinks.

The ones who just know they rock and sit around waiting for everyone to realize how great they are, spend more time sitting next to me in the clubs complaining how “lucky” the guys on stage are.

2) I can’t remember ever going to a theater without knowing what movie I was going to see. Sure, it may have sold out and I had to choose another but I have never just driven to a theater on a whim, just to see what was playing.

I know what I want to see (and what I don’t) because the studios have made sure I knew. They don’t need the theater to shill for them or try to get them to forgo the latest Sony, Paramount or Fox feature in favor of a little indy film.

Theaters are a destination spot as are most comic shops. Some may be in malls (albeit strip malls) and get some casual interest from walk by traffic but most won’t. If publishers aren’t sending people into those shops talking/asking about their titles, they will not be ordered.

When publishers shoulder their responsibilties in a more professional manner and begin working with the DM, there will be no more talk of bottlenecks and they won’t be able to print books fast enough. Until then, the same whine that I’ve been hearing since the late ’80s during my time in rec.arts.comic.misc and on the Compuserve Comcis forum, “Gosh darn it, if only there were less spandex titles…”